NEW YORK —
Since our inception, TWICE has
tracked the shifting sands of CE retailing through
what has become our annual Top 100 Retailers
Over the years, these regular snapshots of the
CE selling scene have provided not only a better
understanding of the business, but also insights into
America’s shopping habits.
For this special 25th anniversary edition, we
cracked open the TWICE archives and compiled lists
of the 10 top retailers in four- and five-year increments
spanning our history. While refinements in our
methodology and adjustments to the baseline sales
volumes over the past two and a half decades render
apples-to-apples comparisons inexact, the six accompanying
charts do provide an historical record of
CE sell-through patterns, and a fascinating look at the
way people shopped.
Speaking of which, the very first retail registry,
published in 1988, was co-produced with People
Magazine, of all partners. The rankings included
video software specialty stores, but only went up to
No. 89 (a berth held by Blockbuster Entertainment),
as inclusion required a minimum of $45 million in
annual CE sales and $40 million in videotape sales
As with each of the Top 10 charts, what’s most interesting
is the mix of distribution channels. The 1987
ranking reflects perhaps the most balanced blend
of store types, and in that sense also represents the
end of an era. Dominating the list with four of the 10
slots are CE specialty chains, led by perennial Top 10
retailer RadioShack. Its 7,000 some-odd locations,
nearly twice today’s store count, kept it at No. 1 for
years before it was unseated by fourth-place Circuit
City, while the legendary Silo and Highland Superstores
chains were neck-and-neck at Nos. 7 and 8.
Also dominating the 1987 rankings were catalog
showrooms Service Merchandise and Best Products.
For those too young (or old) to remember this retail-format relic, customers would select their
jewelry, housewares, sporting goods or CE from a
catalog or in-store display, complete an order form,
and wait for their items to arrive at a checkout counter
from the backroom warehouse via conveyor belt. Service
Merchandise, once the nation’s largest catalog
showroom with $4 billion in sales, closed in 1992
and continues in name only as an e-commerce site.
Also represented in 1987 were mass-merchant
department stores Sears and Montgomery Ward,
and discount chains Kmart and Wal-Mart. Ward’s
highlighted CE that year with the debut of its Electric
Ave. specialty stores, while Wal-Mart, which was still
hyphenated, had half as many locations and onefourth
the CE sales of then discount king Kmart.
By 1991, No. 3 discounter Target entered the CE
sales fray, as did Wal-Mart’s wholesale club division
Within five years, the closures of Highland (liquidated
in 1993) and Silo (shut by corporate parent
Fretter’s in 1995) cleared the way for Best Buy and
Circuit City to take the top two positions, which they
would hold until the latter’s decline in mid-2000s.
Interestingly, the writing was already on the wall in
1996, as Best Buy’s greater productivity generated
an average of $25 million in sales per store, compared
with Circuit’s $12 million.
Also that year, the pervasiveness of the personal
computer led to Top 10 status for CompUSA (No.
3), Office Depot (No. 7) and Tandy-owned Computer
City (No. 10), which was later purchased and
absorbed by CompUSA.
By 2001 Staples had leapfrogged Office Depot
onto the Top 10, creating a lineup that would remain
locked in place through 2006.
Since then, the seismic changes wrought by ecommerce,
the ascension of Apple, the recession
and retail consolidation led to a radically different
playing field on TWICE’s most recent tally. The
2010 registry, released in May, charted
’s entrance into the Top 5 where it trails only
Apple, Walmart and Best Buy, while Target, Costco,
GameStop, Dell, Sam’s Club and former top dog
RadioShack now round out the rankings.